Tweed Shire Council will stick with seven councillors and will not let voters choose their mayor after a bid to hold a referendum on the two issues was rescinded this week.
Last October council decided to hold a referendum to coincide with the local government elections on 8 September asking voters whether they wanted to increase the number of councillors from seven to nine and whether they’d support a popularly elected mayor, both for the term beginning in 2016.
But councillors this week rejected the plan when they backed rescission motions on both issues by Cr Dot Holdom.
Cr Holdom said she didn’t want to commit ratepayer money for ‘a referendum in 2012 when there’ll be no change till 2016’ and that the current system of councillors choosing one of their own for mayor had not been detrimental to the current council.
But Cr van Lieshout said allowing voters to choose their mayor was a far more transparent process for shire residents than the current method as it would ‘exclude all the deals done beforehand’.
Cr van Lieshout said councillors who backed the rescission motion were ‘not trusting the public’.
Cr Phil Youngblutt said that ‘in all probability the person with the biggest budget becomes the mayor’.
Cr Kevin Skinner said Gold Coast City Council had been ‘dysfunctional’ for some time because of a popularly elected mayor.
Cr Skinner also took aim at Byron shire’s popularly elected mayor Jan Barham, saying that since she took a seat in state parliament she had been unavailable for numerous meetings and had to hand over the role to her deputy, thereby ‘not fulfilling that position’.
But Cr Katie Milne said such comments were ‘offensive’ and that Cr Barham had been popularly elected then re-elected because she had done ‘such a good job’. Cr Milne said councillors not backing the referendum were taking away the right of people to choose.
Cr van Lieshout also defended Cr Barham, saying she was one of many ‘respected’ popularly elected mayors around the state.
Mayor Barry Longland said labelling a move for voters to choose their mayor as democratic was ‘populism’.
Cr Longland said only 33 of the state’s 152 councils had decided to have popularly elected mayors and that was ‘out of step’ with how leaders were chosen in state and federal spheres.
‘We don’t elect the premier or the prime minister,’ he said.
Cr Milne said more councillors equalled ‘more democracy’ as there were ‘more of us to consult’ and to ‘spread the workload’.